Posts Tagged ‘Stupidity’

Daniel Kahneman and the Stupidity Pandemic

December 26, 2016

In case you haven’t noticed there is a stupidity pandemic.  It’s a pandemic because it rages throughout the world.  Perhaps the most conspicuous example are the religious wars.  These wars are several centuries out of date.  Terrorism is a religious war being largely fought within the Islamic faith with some terrorists groups targeting the west.  Then there is Brexit, a phenomenon that was not predicted by professional politicians.  In general there is lack of faith in what is called the “establishment” and in bodies of knowledge such as science.

In the United States there is the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  When Trump began his campaign it was regarded as a joke and was quite funny.  It is still a joke, but one that is no longer funny.  If every vote had counted in the United States, the Trump problem would not exist.  But an archaic and stupid institution called the electoral college elected Trump, therefore nullifying the will of the majority of US citizens.

So what has Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman have to do with this?  His two process theory of human cognition provides a means of understanding this pandemic.  System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking.

Experiments have been run where statements are presented to the research participant.  The brain is monitored.  When a statement conflicts with a participant’s individual beliefs, a signature is reported from the brain.  The question is whether this statement will be ignored, or whether the participant engages in deeper thought to reconsider this statement.  There is a cognitive cost here and the simplest reaction is to ignore the statement and regard it as a mistaken belief.

Trump’s  victory was a victory for System 1 processing.  System 1 appeals to fears, emotions, bigotry, and so forth.  Trump is a genius at connecting with and exploiting the System 1 processes of people.  Trump himself rarely uses System 2 processing.  He does not read books, does not think he needs to attend briefings because he knows everything already.  His gut, his System 1 processing, tells him what is true.  However, Trump does not care what is true.  It is whatever he believes at the moment, and this does change from moment to moment.  This is one of the reasons he is such an effective liar.  He does not care what is true.  It is whatever is expedient for the moment.  When confronted with his lies, he denies the truth.  His promise to make America great again was predicated on the lie that the United States is not regarded throughout the world as a great country.  Enemies dislike the politics of Americans, but nevertheless respect its greatness.

Totalitarian countries have exploited the big lie, and so does Trump.  See the healthy memory blog “Sick Memory.”  Lying has become a profitable industry.  Dana Milbank had an interesting column in the 21 December 2016 Washington Post title “Hoping that he didn’t really mean it.”  Milbank pointed out that many areas of the country that went for Trump will suffer deeply from cuts in government spending that will occur if Trump acts on his promises.  The title of Milbank’s article provides the explanation of how these voters reconcile their vote with the adverse effects that will affect them personally.
It is clear that these people did not employ System 2 processing when they voted.  There is justification for believing that these people rarely engaging in System 2 processing.  Like Trump, they go with their gut feelings.  Unfortunately, there is some question if such people will ever realize that they have screwed themselves.  Trump can continue to exploit their fears and bigotry to keep them in line.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Achieving Insight

September 14, 2014

According to Costa, the author of The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse, what will save us all is the ability of the human mind to achieve insight Gary Klein’s book, Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insight presents a new research approach to this classic topic in psychological research. Klein is one of the pioneers in the development of naturalistic approaches to problem solving and decision making. He has extended this approach to the topic of insight. He reviews the previous work done on the topic of insight and makes a compelling argument that their approaches were too constrained to provide sufficient insight into insight.

Klein collected 120 cases of people finding insight. He used the analogy of an archaeological dig. In detailed analyses of these cases he derives the following basic strategies for achieving insight: connections, coincidences, curiosities, contradictions, and creative desperation. At times combinations of these basic strategies are involved.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 is titled “Entering Through the Gates of Insight: How Do Insights Get Triggered? The different strategies for achieving insight are discussed here. He has chapters on Different Ways to Look at Insight and the Logic of Discovery.

Part II is titled “Shutting the Gates: What Interferes with Insights?” The topics of stupidity, how organizations obstruct insight and how NOT to hunt for insights are addressed.

Part III is probably the part that is of most interest to readers, “Opening the Gates: How We Can Foster Insight, “ which includes the chapters, Helping Ourselves, Helping Others, Helping Our Organizations, Tips for Becoming an Insight Hunter, and The Magic of Insights.

My initial thought was to recommend this book quite highly to anyone interested in insight. I most definitely regard it as the best book on the topic. However, on further reflection, and upon rereading the high hopes Costa has for insight, my strong recommendation is for everyone to read Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insight.

Evolution vs. Creationism

April 5, 2014

The previous post was on the stupidity pandemic. A specific example of this pandemic is on whether evolution or creationism should be taught in the public schools. The Scopes Trial, commonly called the Scopes Monkey Trial, and technically termed The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes took place in 1925. The state claimed that Scopes had violated Tennessee law by teaching evolution is a state-funded school. Inherit the Wind is a movie on the Scopes trial. Scopes was found guilty, but his conviction was overturned on a technicality. Nevertheless, the debate has continued. Some argue that evolution should not be taught, or that creationism should be taught instead of evolution, or that both evolution and creationism should be taught. Frankly I am strongly in favor of the final option. My friends tell me that I am wrong, that creationists would use this option to legitimatize their position or perhaps, with biased teaching, to discredit evolution.
What my friends fail to realize is that they are advocating teaching evolution as dogma, which is the very thing that creationists are doing. What is important is that students understand what science is and how it is conducted. The evolution vs. creationism debate provides an ideal means to do this. However, the following points need to be made.
The first point is that scientific theories can be disproved. So, however unlikely it might be, evolution could be disproved on the basis of overwhelming new evidence. In fact evolutionary theory is constantly undergoing refinement. Creationists regard this as a refutation of evolution, but this fine tuning process is a vital part of science. So creationists need to be asked, if there were significant evidence to the contrary, could creationism be disproved? If it cannot be disproved, then creationism is most definitely not a science.
The second point regards the scientific method as well as a bias in the way we humans process information. The human tendency is to look for information that confirm one’s beliefs or hypotheses. However, in the scientific enterprise it is important to look for disconfirming information. In the case of creationism, one can find evidence of an intelligent creator, but looking at the historical record, an enormous number of species have failed and become extinct. True, if the creator were seriously flawed, this could be a reasonable result. But isn’t it more reasonable to propose a random selective process?
The third point is that science does express beliefs, and in probabilistic terms in statistics, but they are based on data and logic. So consider the relevant geologic information. That is based on theory and data. What is the basis for what is presented in the religious source? Arguments based on authority, regardless of the presumed status of that authority, are not acceptable.
Students should be free to draw their own conclusions. But these are the points it is important for students to understand about science.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stupidity Pandemic

April 1, 2014

Picking up from the previous blog that left with the exhortation not to follow the Krell to extinction it would be well to ask, where do we stand now? We are at the peak of scientific knowledge, but too much of the world lives at a subsistence level, and there are numerous wars and conflicts. Millions of people are displaced and have neither homes nor prospects. Terrorists are preoccupied with jihad. Even in the so-called advanced countries stupidity reigns. Many people cling to discredited dogmas and reject scientific findings. I find it quite annoying that many people enjoy the benefits of medicine and technology that result from science, yet reject the scientific basis on which these benefits depend. Worse yet, these individuals’ beliefs risk further advancements in science, technology, and medicine. Moreover, they prevent or hinder responding to problems with a strong scientific basis that need to be addressed. There is a member of the U.S. Congress who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and enforces his beliefs in his legislative actions. What is even more depressing is that citizens of a presumably advanced country elected such a man to office.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson proposed that Congress double funds for medical science, but to cut the entire social and behavioral sciences budget of the National Science Foundation. Although she is to be applauded for doubling funds for medical science, it is regrettable that she fails to see the relevance of the social sciences. One can well argue that most of our problems need to be addressed by the social and behavioral sciences, (To read more on this topic, enter “STEM’ into the search block of the healthymemory blog).
Debates in the United States center on whether someone is for or against Big Government. This is a meaningless question and a meaningless topic for debate. What is Big Government? Perhaps it could be defined in terms of the percentage of the GNP spent by the government, but that would still be a pointless basis for debate. The debate should be on what services should be provided by government and which by the private sector. Moreover, this debate should not be on the basis of what people believe, but on the basis of reasoning and evidence. Public policy should be evidence-based. Sometimes the evidence is there for the asking, but often experiments need to be done. When this happens, there is some evidence of intelligence. Unsupported beliefs indicate stupidity. To put this in Kahnman’s terms, we need System 2 processes, not System 1 processes (if this is not understood, enter “Kahneman” into the search block of the healthymemory blog.).
Too often a false dichotomy is made between science and religion; that you follow one or the other. Science and religion are not incompatible. First of all, it needs to be appreciated that science and religion are alternative, not competitive, means of knowing. The Dali Lama is a strong proponent of this point of view and also a strong believer in science. Next, a distinction needs to be made between religions and God. Religions are constituted of and by human beings, and religious promulgations and texts are from men. It is up to us individuals to decide whether they are the word of God. A belief in God should begin with an appreciation of our brains. If you believe in God, then the brain is a gift that came through evolution, and we need to make the most of this gift. This brain is the vehicle by which we work to understand the world. Science is a rigorous means of gaining this understanding. It is clear that this understanding comes gradually.
For a long time, the advancement of human knowledge proceeded at a glacial pace. I would argue that true scientific advancement began with Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and their use of the scientific method. Copernicus formulated the heliocentric theory of our solar system with the earth at its center. Galileo’s research putt him at odds with the Roman Catholic Church who saw his research as an assault on the Church’s monopoly on truth. They placed him on trial. Fortunately, others followed in their footsteps. As more engaged in these pursuits, knowledge advanced at an increasingly rapid rate. One of the ironic features of this advancement of scientific knowledge is that we have become more aware of what we don’t know. Dark matter is just one of these areas.
Unfortunately religious dogmas have had a depressing effect on the advancement of knowledge. This should never be allowed. What we learn through science, which is, or should be, the antithesis of dogma. Scientific knowledge is always subject to change subject to new information and new theories. Although we can never be certain, scientific knowledge provides us the best available information regarding what to believe and how to act. Science requires heavy use of System 2 processes, thinking. Dogmas allow us to rely on System 1 processes so we don’t have to think.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.